A planter greets visitors to the Simpsons home -- a Los Angeles-area, single-family home that at less than 1,000 square feet is significantly smaller than the average American household.- Joellen Easton
Dan Simpson talks at the dinner table with Sean Cole.- Joellen Easton
With no central air conditioning or heating, and by saving electricity when they can, the family utility bills are far less expensive than average for the Los Angeles metro area.- Joellen Easton
The refrigerator at the Simpsons home -- few luxury items, mostly just the necessities.- Joellen Easton
The Simpsons family car. By walking or taking the bus to work, they clock less than 260 miles per month on the car -- impressive in car-centric Los Angeles.- Joellen Easton
The Simpsons sisters -- Anna, right, and Christa -- compare cell phones.- Joellen Easton
An average family? Meet the Simpsons
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KAI RYSSDAL: We asked Marketplace's Sean Cole to find an average American family and find out how much they consume in a given week or month. He didn't have to look too far...
Sean Cole: Because what American family could possibly be more average, more consumerific than...
Sound: [Simpsons theme music]
Homer Simpson: "Give me 700 Krusty burgers! I'm old, gimmie gimmie gimmie! Isn't there anything faster than a microwave?"
Sadly, they're also fictional -- I was going to have to find a real family. The real Simpsons. And if you Google the phrase "the real Simpsons" you'll find the Web site of Dan Simpson.
Dan Simpson: Come on in, Sean.
Cole: Hey, folks.
Simpson family: Hi!
He lives about 25 miles outside L.A. with his wife Dena and their daughters Anna and Christa... Or also known as Marge, Lisa and Maggie. There's even a Bart -- their son, Micah, who lives in Hawaii. Christa plays the saxophone, just like Lisa on the show. So, Simpsons they are -- average, they are not.
Dan Simpson: This is our humble little abode.
Dan showed me around while my colleague Joellen Easton grilled the others about their consuming habits.
Joellen Easton: [To family] We're about halfway through, so it won't take too much longer...
The survey helps estimate how many acres' worth of the Earth's resources a given person consumes. It's broken it up into four main categories. Number one?
Sound -- Clip from Simpsons episode: "Oh, it's great to be indoors with my family."
Cole: How big is your house?
Dan Simpson: A little less than 1,000 square feet.
...about half the size of the average new house in this country, so the real Simpsons use a lot less fuel and electricity than the average American. Dena said back in April, all of their utilities combined cost only 84 bucks.
Dena Simpson: Some people say that their electric alone is over $100... I say "How do you do that? Ours is $30." So they must really have a lot of electrical stuff or waste.
And waste is not what these Simpsons are about. They make a point of living modestly, mainly because they're Pentecostal Christians. Dan works at a Pentecostal church in L.A. proper -- which brings us to topic number two: Transportation. Remember the episode where the Simpsons tried out that SUV, the Canyonero? Well, the real Simpsons drive the Canyoner-No!
Dan Simpson: That little Ford Escort is our car.
Barring traffic, Dan can drive to the church he works for in L.A. in about 35 minutes. But he doesn't -- he spends three to four hours a day commuting on buses and trains. It's his "down time," he says.
Dan Simpson: So I like it. Plus, I'm able to keep a car off the road -- which for me is a good value when it comes to our climate and global warming, all those things.
Dena works at the elementary school seven minutes up the road by foot. So between errands and taking the girls to school, they clock maybe 260 miles on the car a month, about a quarter of the national average.
Sound -- Clip from Simpsons episode: [Car zooming, comes to screeching halt] "Can I take your order?"
Number three on the survey: food.
Dan Simpson: Shall we have dinner?
Meat and packaged food, and eating out a lot, use up more resources than, say, making a taco salad at home. Though on Sundays after church, the real Simpsons head to a local Mexican restaurant, or L.A.'s famous In-and-Out Burger.
Dan Simpson: I don't prefer In-and-Out because I like my burgers flame-broiled.
Cole: It strikes me that y'all are more like the Flanderses than the Simpsons.
Simpson family: [Laughter]
Dan didn't take kindly to that -- he told me the neighbors of the TV Simpsons give Christians a bad name. Still, the real Simpsons love the show. They just love TV, and movies and DVDs. Which brings us to the last category: goods and services. When something breaks, they do usually try to fix it -- except where home entertainment is concerned...
Dan Simpson: We have a TV and DVD player in every room, and if one them is broken, it gets replaced soon -- immediately.
Which might be the only average-ish thing about them. Still, when my colleague Joellen crunched the survey numbers, the results were kind of startling: If everyone on the planet lived like the average person in this house, it would take about three planet Earths to sustain our population.
Anna and Christa Simpson: Whoa!
Dena Simpson: What more could we give up?
This is Marge... uh, Dena.
Dena Simpson: I mean, I walk to work, we live in a teeny-tiny house, we don't have central heating or air...
And yet their modest way of life, extrapolated across the population of the globe, would ultimately consume the globe -- because a lot of their consuming is done for them by utility companies and transport lines and just the demands of a normal American life. Still, the real Simpsons are doing pretty well: If everyone in the world consumed like the average American, we'd need about six Earths to sustain ourselves.
I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.